Teacher with adult learner.

Stop, go back dictation

This is a dictation activity which pushes students to make sense of the language they hear by writing it down as accurately as possible. Different to traditional dictations, the learners themselves control the dictation, with learners asking the teacher to ‘stop’ and ‘go back’, as many times as they want. My students particularly like this aspect which makes them feel in control of their learning. Suitable for classes of any level, this activity demands little teacher preparation.


You will need a short text (not more than 50 words) which you think will be of value to your students. This could be to introduce some new language, for revision, or to expose students to a particular text type, such as a short note.


  • I draw on the board three symbols as they are on the classroom cassette machine: play, stop and go back (rewind).
  • I then elicit or pre-teach these terms, telling the class that in a minute I will be their ‘cassette machine’. I explain to students that I will be playing a short text that they should write down word per word. I will read at normal speed but at any time they can ask me to stop and go back to a particular point in the text: e.g. ‘stop, go back to "she was wearing’’.
  • Once students are ready with pencil and paper I stand at the front of the class, without speaking. Students normally look at each other for a few seconds, then somebody thinks to shout out ‘play’ and I start reading!
  • I usually read at a slow-normal speed, trying to read the sentences with natural intonation and linking between words, rather than uttering each word separately.
  • I let the class take complete control, stopping only when they ask me to using the ‘stop-go-back’ formula, and if not, reading on until they do (it may take them a few goes before they understand how to successfully stop their ‘cassette machine’).
  • The dictation goes on until all the students feel satisfied with their text. I find that even when the slower / weaker students ask the teacher to go back, the fast / stronger students still feel this is useful for them as they use this to carefully check what they have written.
  • Once everybody has the full text, students can then ask their ‘cassette machine’ to read it through one more time.
  • I give students a few minutes to compare their texts in pairs, and then hand out copies of the original for them to check against.
  • An interesting alternative for feeding-back is for the students to re-dictate the text to the teacher. I make sure to write up the text exactly as they say it (i.e. keeping any mistakes). Once the whole text is on the board, I guide my students to identifying any areas that are not correct, and go over them.
  • Rather than then finish with the text, it can be productive for learners to look at it more closely, be it for language focus, genre analysis or for a discussion of meaning. Having acquired the text themselves (through controlling the dictation), any work done at this stage can be particularly engaging for students, helping them to better understand and retain the language.